Strik­ing a Lu­cra­tive Note

NewsChina - - ESSAY - By Chris Hawke

Ris­ing real estate prices have driven many as­pir­ing mu­si­cians out of ma­jor cities, but there has been an up­side: prop­erty de­vel­op­ers are now one of the big­gest sources of in­come for per­form­ers.

Mu­sic is like wa­ter – it's nec­es­sary for life, but no one wants to pay for it.

At one time, we could make money sell­ing CDS, but now no one even has a CD player.

How­ever, our over­all fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion is im­prov­ing, mostly due to the real estate mar­ket.

All across China – in­clud­ing where I live, in Dali, Yun­nan Prov­ince – real estate de­vel­op­ers and their part­ners in mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments are cre­at­ing high-end hous­ing and re­tail ar­eas, try­ing to per­suade peo­ple to in­vest and move in.

This cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties for mu­si­cians. First, real estate com­pa­nies fre­quently hire mu­si­cians to play a free fes­ti­val for the lo­cal peo­ple to get them to come out and take a look at the prop­er­ties.

The key here is to get the right types of peo­ple – peo­ple with money and cul­ture.

Over the Oc­to­ber Na­tional Day Hol­i­day, I played at a de­vel­op­ment in Teng­chong – a sub­trop­i­cal city only 50 kilo­me­ters from the Myan­mar bor­der – built in a min­i­mal style that said “ar­chi­tec­ture mag­a­zine.”

The build­ings were all low, to show off the sur­round­ing moun­tains. The lo­cal ter­raced rice fields were re­tained in the de­sign to re­mind peo­ple they were close to na­ture.

The fes­ti­val stage was in the mid­dle of the rice pat­ties.

We had to nav­i­gate along the nar­row mud dams with our equip­ment to get to the stage.

All around us were cows and wa­ter buf­falo, ap­par­ently serenely graz­ing in the ter­raced pat­ties, but ac­tu­ally staked into place.

To con­vey “high art,” and “cul­tured neigh­bors,” the first act was a group of young dancers in skin col­ored body suits that looked like naked flesh from a dis­tance.

To the sounds of wind chimes and a me­an­der­ing Chi­nese zither, the dancers popped up from hid­ing places amid the rice pad­dies, waved their arms to­ward the sun, and mimed the hard­ships and joy of work­ing in the fields. For 45 min­utes.

The lo­cal towns­peo­ple gazed on in re­spect­ful si­lence for the en­tire dance, pre­sum­ably, like me, wait­ing for some­thing to hap­pen. It never did.

Our act in­cludes get­ting peo­ple to do tra­di­tional Amer­i­can barn danc­ing with us. To my sur­prise, peo­ple gamely nav­i­gated the nar­row rice pad­dies and tethered bovines to join in. I sup­pose there is not a lot go­ing on in Teng­chong on most days.

A sec­ond op­por­tu­nity oc­curs when the prop­erty de­vel­op­ers de­cide to have on­go­ing cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties to an­chor a de­vel­op­ment. The art movie the­ater, gallery or mu­sic venue will get free or very low rent for a pe­riod of time, on the con­di­tion they pro­vide the agreed-upon pro­gram­ming.

This led to my band get­ting a res­i­dency at a venue in Guiyang, cap­i­tal of neigh­bor­ing Guizhou Prov­ince.

We billed our­selves as play­ing tra­di­tional US folk mu­sic, with some songs dat­ing back 300 years.

The per­former who came on be­fore us was a mu­si­cian from the Xin­jiang Uyghur Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion. But all he played was Hong Kong love bal­lads. We couldn't un­der­stand why, un­til we got on stage, and the boss heck­led us to play “Ho­tel Cal­i­for­nia” un­til we even­tu­ally re­lented.

On the other ex­treme was a live house in the sub­urbs of Li­jiang, a tourist city north of Dali. It was run by a col­lec­tive of se­ri­ous mu­si­cians who be­lieved in pure art. Since the venue was pro­vided to them for free as long as they had mu­sic ev­ery night, they did not have make any com­pro­mises at all.

The chief mu­si­cian played a gui­tar with a vi­olin bow, and each night led a group on “free im­pro­vi­sa­tion,” which he care­fully cu­rated. He de­manded that the mu­sic sound ex­otic and un­rec­og­niz­able, and if it sank into any­thing with a steady beat or melody, he would slam his bow into the gui­tar re­peat­edly to shake us back into the pure art zone, or start Mongolian throat singing in a low, deep voice un­til we all stopped play­ing.

The re­sult was kind of in­trigu­ing, for around 20 min­utes, un­til a lis­tener re­al­ized that the “free im­pro­vi­sa­tion” was just a few repet­i­tive tricks done over and over again.

The end re­sult is that the own­ers and their friends had a pri­vate club­house in the mid­dle of a lux­ury de­vel­op­ment, be­cause no one else could bear the mu­sic, giv­ing new mean­ing to the term “free im­pro­vi­sa­tion.”

In an­cient times mu­si­cians were hired by em­per­ors and princes. To­day we are hired by real estate com­pa­nies. Un­til some­one in­vents a smart­phone app that lets peo­ple or­der mu­si­cians to their home to play a few songs when the mood hits them, I'm happy to have a pa­tron. At least I'm get­ting back some of the ex­or­bi­tant rent I've paid over the years.

Our act in­cludes get­ting peo­ple to do tra­di­tional Amer­i­can barn danc­ing with us. To my suprise, peo­ple gamely nav­i­gated the nar­row rice pad­dies and tethered bovines to join in

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.